SEA Games will see Shanti Pereira at her peak
She crossed the finish line at the Kallang Practice Track in first place, but Shanti Pereira showed hardly any joy.
No one was surprised she won the 200m event at the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) Track and Field Series 1 last Saturday, but her time of 24.97sec would have raised many eyebrows.
It was almost a second slower than her national record of 23.99, set at the Asian Junior Championships in Taiwan last June - but even with less than five months before this year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil, Singapore's big hope in women's sprinting is not about to panic.
Speaking to The New Paper after her race, Shanti revealed that her timings over the past month - in training and competition - have been slow.
"It has been 12-something in the 100m, and 24-something in the 200m," the 18-year-old said, with a wry smile.
"Last season was a long one for me. I had many competitions between June and October. It's like I peaked and then slowly went down.
"But my coach told me not to worry and I agree with her. I will get better in the next few races; I'm confident I'll hit my mark."
Singapore will host the SEA Games for the first time since 1993 and, with the new National Stadium set to be the centrepiece of the region's most prestigious multi-sport event, the buzz is slowly building, especially for the most glamorous races - the sprints.
The men believe they can challenge for medals in the blue-riband 100m, and Shanti carries the hopes for the women.
She finished fourth in the 100m and 200m in 2013 in Myanmar, which was her maiden Games, and the national record holder in the 100m (11.89, set in 2013), is widely expected to get on the podium in June.
If she wins her pet event, the 200m, she will become the first Singaporean to do so since Glory Barnabas in 1973.
Shanti's coach Margaret Oh expects her to be in top form in five months' time.
"I expected it actually," she said, referring to last Saturday's slow time.
"It's still early and I've just started loading her (with weight training). Also, the venue is very windy; runners don't always get great times.
"But the aim is to have her peak in June, not now.
"She should beat her personal best (time) by June. She won't disappoint."
Competitions are set to come thick and fast for the Republic Polytechnic student, who won the 100m of the SAA Series yesterday in 12.09sec.
She will race in the national juniors next month, the Singapore Open and Philippines Open in March, and the Taiwan Open in April, with the SEA Games from June 5 to 16.
In the meantime, she is powering up in the weight room.
"My coach wants me to get stronger, said the 1.68m-tall sprinter, who can lift 75kg on the full squats.
"Of course, it's important not to get too bulky, but my rivals will be strengthening themselves for June, as well."
Shanti was the only Singaporean to race in the women's 100m and 200m at the Myanmar Games.
She clocked 11.99 in the 100m - 0.08 away from third-placed Tassaporn Wannakit of Thailand.
Shanti has identified Vietnam's Thi Huong Vu and Thailand's Neeranuch Klomdee as her main rivals in the 200m.
They finished 1-2 respectively in both the 100m and 200m two years ago.
Huong Vu, who is 10 years older than Shanti, won in 11.59sec (100m) and 23.55 (200m), while Neeranuch clocked 11.85 and 24.02, respectively.
"The Vietnamese woman is really good," said Shanti.
"Can I beat her? Well, I'm training towards that.
"The last SEA Games was my first one, and I was happy with how I did.
"This time around, I'm aware of the expectations for me to win a medal.
"There is pressure, but I try not to let it get to me."
In dealing with the pressure, Shanti has big sister, Valerie - a former national sprinter who competed in the 2007 and 2011 SEA Games - to turn to.
"She's my mentor; I tell her everything that happens in my running life," said the teenager.
"She can relate to the stuff I'm going through, and sometimes she even also scolds me about stuff like not eating properly.
"If I didn't have her, things would be much harder."
Jannah, Dipna eye the big arena
WORKING HARD: Dipna Lim-Prasad (above) and Jannah Wong. - ST FILE PHOTO
WORKING HARD: Dipna Lim-Prasad and Jannah Wong (above). - ST FILE PHOTO
Dipna Lim-Prasad ended Singapore's 16-year-wait for a medal in women's track events when she won a bronze in the women's 400m hurdles at the 2013 South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
Last year, Jannah Wong broke Lim-Prasad's national record of 14.29sec in the 100m hurdles, clocking 14.14 at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taiwan.
While Wong, 18, is simply gunning to qualify for her first SEA Games this year, Lim-Prasad believes home-ground advantage gives her a shot at gold in her third outing at the regional event.
Lim-Prasad's bronze-winning time of 59.96sec made her the first Singapore woman to go under 60 seconds in the 400m hurdles, and the 23-year-old is aiming to set a new mark in her pet event this time.
"I am definitely looking to improve my personal best so that I can in turn improve my podium finish," she told The New Paper recently.
"There are a lot of unexpected things that can happen, but I believe I have a fighting chance to win gold."
Thai Wassana Winatho won gold at the last Games in 58.85.
The South-east Asian record is 56.78, set by another Thai, Reawadee Srithoa, in 1991.
While Lim-Prasad identified Wassana and Vietnam's Thi Lan Quach - the silver medallist at the last Games - as her biggest rivals, she is focused only on herself.
FOCUS ON YOURSELF
She said: "There's no point keeping track of other people's timings. It's better to focus on yourself, because even if your rivals are running at a certain timing, it's still not your timing."
Both Lim-Prasad and Wong are training hard as the clock ticks down to the Games, which will be held here from June 5 to 16.
Wong is working hard to regain full fitness and improve her hurdling technique.
"I want to try and improve my personal best and reach the minimum qualifying target (13.84) for the SEA Games," she said.
Wong, who resumed training with her coach Melvin Tan immediately after her A levels last year, insists she feels "no pressure".
"I'm not very sure whether I can qualify, but I don't really feel much pressure because I'm still young and there will be many more SEA Games to try and qualify for," she said.
With history on her mind, Lim-Prasad has been hard at work with coach Luis Cunha.
"Coach Luis is trying to change my running technique so I can run better," she said. "We're also working on speed, endurance and strength.
"It's been quite intensive, but it's necessary and I'm slowly getting the hang of it," said Lim-Prasad, who trains four times a week at the Kallang Practice Track, besides gym workouts twice a week.
Lim-Prasad also insisted she feels no added pressure to win on home soil, but believes a gold medal is "attainable", and doing it at the new National Stadium in front of her countrymen would be extra special.
"I don't feel more pressure, because it's something that I also want to achieve and it's something within my grasp," she said.
"It's better to focus on yourself, because even if your rivals are running at a certain timing, it's still not your timing."
- Dipna Lim-Prasad